Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Park Farm near Bridgend. Park Farm is a hen farm and amongst other issues, we discussed EU rules on the welfare of hens which came into force in January of this year. The legislation bans conventional battery cages for egg laying hens across the European Union, but while Wales is fully compliant, 13 countries are still not and have received a first warning.
The European Commission now believes that all but Italy will be compliant by August. However, in the last few months these countries have been able to export cheaper eggs to our supermarkets due to them having lower animal welfare costs on their farms. The problem of governments not implementing EU legislation by the deadline, usually when they have had many years to do so, is a very serious one.
There is a similar problem looming with rules due to come into force on improving the conditions in which pigs are kept. Individual sow stalls have to be converted into group housing by January 2013. It looks likely that only seven countries will be ready in time. I have signed a written declaration in the Parliament condemning this widespread non-compliance and stating that enforcement of EU animal welfare legislation is indispensable to ensure both fair competition between producers and the credibility of EU standards in the eyes of consumers and trade partners.
So what can be done about this? A new general law on animal welfare is due to be proposed in the coming months. I have been calling for this law to include the creation of a new system of early intervention by EU authorities to ensure compliance. Those countries struggling to meet the deadline would be identified early through a new procedure which would require close co-operation with the Commission. Governments would be required to provide regular updates of progress and publish their statistics. At risk farms would then be subject to further inspections and support, for example through training. Following the deadline, there would be more rights for countries to ban the import of illegal products into their countries and a harmonised system of penalties.
I am currently working on the Parliament's Animal Welfare Strategy and I have secured support from all political groups for such a system. The strategy will call for a study to be conducted to identify the possibilities of how European authorities could best assist with this kind of system. The responsible Commissioner has also indicated that he would like to develop a system along these lines. I would like to know what you think about an early warning system, as it is designed to help both those farmers who have complied by ensuring fair competition and those farmers who need extra support to do so. You can send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
It is vitally important that we do all that we can to ensure farmers across the European Union comply with those rules that are passed, for the sake of the welfare of the animals, the credibility of our legislation and for fairness in the marketplace. I hope that a system like this will be the answer.